Discussing issues from the libertarian perspective can ostracize you quite rapidly in most economic/social/political discussions. A few words we use that are associated with right wing canned mantras can alert others that you may be a neocon and are not intellectually able to defend yourself. Or on the opposing end they will alert rightwingers to your being too liberal or out of touch. They think they heard your same take on Fox News or Rachel Maddow. This is unfortunate and usually turns potential converts into stereotypers before they will even hear your argument. To help combat this handicap in rationally discussing libertarian philosophy I am putting together a guide to avoid the clichéd mainstream label that kills the true dialogue of such ideas.
Today’s edition is the “Small Government” bad word. When you say something along the lines of small government, most will think of you as some staunch Republican corporatist who wants large companies to steal all of the world’s wealth on the backs of an impoverished people. Or they will think you are some Redneck hick who is apparently always too stupid to know what he SHOULD want for himself. This needs to be fought, as always with intellectual firepower that doesn’t exactly say SMALL GOVERNMENT. Lead the discussion with an overall subtle theme that highlights the problems with a large government. Break it down into some main arguments.
1. Large Government is a burden, not a benevolent force: It is funded by the people’s money. For whatever its purpose; our safety, defense, education-it will have multiple, grey buildings throughout the nation with many well paid and pensioned employees. They have tons of equipment, projects, contractors, forms, lawyers etc. that have to be paid for with money removed from the hands of the productive.
The department of Homeland Security has over 200,000 employees according to Wikepedia. Let’s take a second to make an extremely crude calculation. If we assume an average salary of 50k for all employees (this doesn’t include benefits which are a significant addition to this calculation), that’s $10B just for payroll. There is no incentive to decrease this. Money is allocated and not earned. If anything, more funding will be allocated to DHS and the employee number will increase as security carries such a deep emotional appeal with the electorate. If anyone tells you how necessary the DHS is for security, remind them that 2002, the year of its creation, was only 9 years ago. Small government is a call for less wasting of economic resources.
2. The Ethical argument: Small government conjures up ideas of a world with capitalism run amok, where the only protection from this chaos is a large and ever larger government. We need to start with the idea that government is not a safe haven from the greed we fear in business. It’s composed of the same flawed and selfish personnel as its private counterparts but with no one upstream to be its regulator. The overall regulator of a business to perform its function well is market reward (Don’t say profits, the “profit motive” mantra will get you in liberal time out). While this may lead to some unintended consequences, this ensures that the producer produces. Government operations do not have the same mandate. It has no incentive for market reward because it IS the market. It has no worry about regulation because it is the regulator.
Large government agencies and regulations also most assuredly lead to it picking the winners and losers in business. Through regulatory burdens, subsidies, and other well intentioned tools, it tends to promote larger than life entities with special treatment (ie major investment banks, healthcare providers) that profit at the risk of others. Small government is no less ethical than big government. That capitalism run amok scene feared by liberals is a better poster for the consequences of Big Government.
3. Redefine the term. What does small government mean? This is the most important and common sense piece of the discussion. Like “Infrastructure” or “regulation”, small government is a vague term that everyone uses but doesn’t understand. You can say you are for small government, but what do you mean by that? Most Republicans think they are for small government, but are OK with costly, endless wars everywhere. They hail Regan for his small government, but that’s an unfair accolade for a President whose average annual deficit was 2 and a half times that of his predecessor. Liberals think they are against small government, but pretend to be the champions of civil rights; an obvious philosophical dilemma.
Help them understand what it really means. Small government is believing that most functions are better left to private entities because government entities perform at suboptimal levels without the regulatory consequences of market reward. It is believing that money sent to Washington DC for education from taxpayers in Anytown, USA, should not come back to that community in a lesser amount because paper pushers and education czars in some far off admin building got to take their cut. Its understanding the flawed and unethical nature of government intervention in market places and personal property.
A small government philosophy is absolutely essential to the idea of a free society. Don’t let people tune it out because its summed up in a phrase that turns them off.